Redlining, Food Apartheids and Black Food Justice

– Katie Petit and Riley De Jesus

The USDA defines a food desert as “a neighborhood that lacks healthy food sources.” While this term has been widely used to describe communities with lack of access to fresh foods and grocery stores, it is imperative that we contextualize what this language can mean to people living in communities defined as ‘food deserts.’

Contrary to the imagery that the term ‘food desert’ evokes, we know that these communities are not desolate or inherently lacking; there is abundant life, energy and potential to be found. Karen Washington coined the term ‘food apartheid’ to make the shift inward, exploring the root causes of food system inequities as being directly correlated with race, class and geography.

The fact of the matter: healthy, fresh foods are accessible in wealthy neighborhoods, while unhealthy foods are bountiful in poor neighborhoods. This is an intentional, policy disparity that leaves racialized individuals

A study concerning multiple communities found that wealthy neighborhoods had three times the number of grocery stores as low socioeconomic neighborhoods, while white neighborhoods had four times the number as African American neighborhoods. African Americans living in an area with access to one or more grocery stores are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables than those living in neighborhoods without. For each additional neighborhood grocery store, produce consumption increased by 32%  

The degree to which a neighborhood has access to healthy food sources can be measured by distance to a store, the number of stores in a given area, accessibility of these stores, means of transportation and income level of community members. Although these neighborhoods may have corner and convenience stores, the shelves are stocked with cheap, processed, nutritionally empty foods–foods high in sugar and fat–which increases the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related issues.

So what shapes food apartheids?

Redlining, Jim Crowe, environmental racism, income inequality, anti-Black farming policies, saturation of convenience foods, lack of food sovereignty, colonialism, residential segregation, classism, lack of access to growing spaces influenced food apartheids.

The history of segregation continues to shape every aspect of people’s lives—including the food they have access to. 

Redlining maps were created with the intent of formalizing the division between white and Black citizens in a given city, based on principles of so-called desirability and race. In the U.S., redlining is defined as a discriminatory practice in which services (financial and otherwise) are withheld from individuals residing in neighborhoods deemed ‘hazardous’ to investment, with residents belonging largely to racial and ethnic minorities. The formalized practice of redlining began in 1934 with the passage of the National Housing Act, leading to the creation of race-based maps of more than 200 U.S. cities.

The development of food deserts in minority neighborhoods as well as purposeful construction of supermarkets impractically far away from targeted residents are direct results of the redlining.

Food disparities in U.S. cities have a collective effect on people’s health. Research has linked them to the disproportionately poor nutrition of Black and Latino Americans, even after adjustment for socioeconomic status. As much as urban planning has been part of the problem, it could now be part of the solution. Some cities have begun using planning tools to increase food equity.

Michelle Wu’s Food Justice Agenda notes that: food justice means racial justice, demanding a clear-eyed understanding of how white supremacy has shaped our food systems. Her campaign outlines clear policy goals:

  • Support independent food businesses to build a more resilient, diverse food economy.
  • Liveable wages for local food chain workers.
  • Expand residents’ access to fresh, nutritious, affordable, & culturally relevant foods.
  • Public procurement to deliver good food for residents and create opportunities for diverse, local businesses.
  • Coalition of community advocates to secure food policy reforms.

Some additional policy options:

  • Low interest loans for retail food places to operate in food apartheids and keep up with inflation price changes.
  • Tax cuts for food places operating in food apartheids.
  • Financial support, liveable wages and basic income for food workers.
  • Health insurance for food workers sponsored by government.
  • food subsidies for fresh, culturally relevant produce.
  • Support community-led food policy initiatives (policy councils, advisory boards).
  • Revise zoning laws to promote food equity.
  • Housing, transport, childcare and other direct social assistance.

Food justice means affirming that consistent access to nutritious, affordable, and culturally relevant food is a universal human right.

Reference List:
Agyeman, J. (2021, August 16). How urban planning and housing policy helped create ‘food apartheid’ in US cities. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/how-urban-planning-and-housing-policy-helped-create-food-apartheid-in-us-cities-154433
Berryman, L. (2020, November 25). Redlining and Racism – the Real Roots of Food Deserts in our Communities. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://sustainability.wfu.edu/2020/10/26/redlining-and-racism-the-real-roots-of-food-insecurity-in-our-communities/
Brown , R. (n.d.). Overcoming food apartheid – center for community and economic development – michigan State University. Overcoming Food Apartheid – Center for Community and Economic Development – Michigan State University. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://ced.msu.edu/media/e-newsletters/cnv-vol-31-no-1-spring-2021/1935
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. (2021, April 15). What is a food apartheid? Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://pittsburghfoodbank.org/2021/04/15/what-is-a-food-apartheid/
Move for Hunger. (2020, August 11). Redlining and Food Justice in America . Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://moveforhunger.org/blog/redlining-and-food-justice-america
Pink, R. (2018, October 11). Birmingham’s ‘food deserts’ have been shaped by its redlined past. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://civileats.com/2018/09/26/birminghams-food-deserts-have-been-shaped-by-its-redlined-past/
Price, J. H., Khubchandani, J., McKinney, M., & Braun, R. (2013). Racial/ethnic disparities in chronic diseases of youths and access to health care in the United States. BioMed research international. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3794652/#:~:text=more%20chronic%20diseases.-,Racial%2Fethnic%20minorities%20are%201.5%20to%202.0%20times%20more%20likely,seem%20to%20be%20getting%20worse
Zhang, M., & Debarchana, G. (2016, February). Spatial supermarket redlining and neighborhood vulnerability: A case study of hartford, Connecticut. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4810442/

Canada is guilty. AND SO ARE WE: Reexamining the nutrition experiments

Written and researched by Christabel Menezes

*TW: mentions of sexual violence, starvation, trauma and residential schools.

Residential Schools

Federal government funded schools that forced Indigenous children into assimilation.

These schools attempted to ‘educate’ and convert youth, assimilating them into white Canadian society. Approximately 150,000 Indigenous children attended these schools, with 6,000 found dead*.

Psychological impact: PTSD, substance abuse, depression and dysthymic disorder. ‘Residential School Syndrome’ describes a broad range of symptoms associated with victims of residential schools**.

Sexual abuse: Sexual violence was extremely common at residential schools, often by the religious staff leading the classes.

Health and disease: The students were particularly vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis and influenza (including the Spanish flu).

Food at Residential Schools

“Hunger was never absent”

During Basil Johnson’s duration at the residential school during 1939-1950, he noted that students were fed just enough to blunt the sharp edge of hunger for three or four hours, never enough to dispel hunger until the next meal. The food was often inedible. Russ Moses described the estimated diet at residential schools was 1260 kcal/day. Energy requirements for moderately active children range from 1400 – 3200 kcal/day.

Nutrition Experiments

Led by The Canadian Council on Nutrition, researchers viewed Aboriginal children as “experimental materials” and research opportunities. The children’s families were not notified and did not give consent to participation. They did not have access to traditional, nutritious foods that they were accustomed to. Prior to the study, researchers deliberately fed the children less than 50% of an adequate diet to induce malnutrition. Some studies examined the relation of nutrition and oral health – 6 schools documented cases of gingivitis and dental cavities.

Supplements given: Vitamin C, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2).

Food products: “Carrot biscuit“: large amounts of vitamin A.

Flour mix: contained large amounts of vitamin B and bonemeal – could not legally be distributed outside Newfoundland. 85% of total calories was from white flour, lard, sugar and jam.

Control group: Investigations revealed the poor quality of food at residential schools. Rather than working towards a solution, researchers fed the children poor quality foods to compare the effect of experimental fortified foods.

Brasfield, C. (2001). Residential School Syndrome. BC Medical Journal, 2(43). https://bcmj.org/articles/residential-school-syndrome
Henderson, William B.. “Indian Act”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 16 December 2020, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indian-act. Accessed 01 June 2021.
Macdonald, N. E., Stanwick, R., & Lynk, A. (2014). Canada’s shameful history of nutrition research on residential school children: The need for strong medical ethics in Aboriginal health research. Paediatrics & child health, 19(2), 64. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/19.2.64
Miller, J., Residential Schools in Canada (2021). In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/residential-schools
Mosby, I. (2013). Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952. Histoire sociale/Social history 46(1), 145-172. doi:10.1353/his.2013.0015.
Mosby, I., & Galloway, T. (2017). “Hunger was never absent”: How residential school diets shaped current patterns of diabetes among Indigenous peoples in Canada. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal, 189(32), E1043–E1045. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.170448
Mosby, I., & Galloway, T. (2017). ‘The abiding condition was hunger’: assessing the long-term biological and health effects of malnutrition and hunger in Canada’s residential schools. British Journal of Canadian Studies: Volume 30, Issue 2. https://doi.org/10.3828/bjcs.2017.9
Shuchman M. (2013). Bioethicists call for investigation into nutritional experiments on Aboriginal people. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 185(14), 1201–1202. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-4576

Marina Mansour


Hi everyone! My name is Marina Mansour. My journey to dietetics has been a long one, but one that I truly appreciate for what it has taught me. I studied biological sciences at the University of Alberta before realizing my true passion was nutrition. I then went to Acadia University where I finished my BSc Nutrition and Dietetics. After gaining a few years of work experience, I went back to complete a Masters of Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph. I now have my own private practice – Food for Life Nutrition – specializing in maternal and child nutrition. I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Growing up as a second generation Egyptian, I never really felt excluded or discriminated against, but when I started studying nutrition, I realized that there was a huge gap in cultural competence. My multiculturalism helped me to be successful as a dietitian, especially in helping those from other cultural backgrounds as it has enabled me to always seek to understand different cultures. Food is such an integral part of culture so we cannot even begin to discuss food without first understanding the culture.

I am so proud of my heritage and so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had that have led me to where I am now. Dietetics is an exciting field, one that is quickly changing and always adapting. I am optimistic that cultural competence will continue to be discussed and am honoured to be in a field that celebrates diversity.

Craig Pacheco

My name is Craig Pacheco (He/Him/His) and I am a Registered Dietitian in Toronto/Tkaronto, Canada. I am a graduate of the Master of Public Health in Nutrition and Dietetics program from the University of Toronto and the founder of Queerly Nutrition, a service focusing on advocating and providing LGBT2SQ+ inclusive nutrition care services and training.

As a member of the LGBT2SQ+ community, I often felt misunderstood and unseen in health care spaces.  Topics on sexuality and gender identity are often left out of the conversation when discussing culturally competent nutrition care services. Dietetic training across the country lacks acceptance, understanding, and representation of LGBT2SQ+ folks’ narratives. Dietitians are trained to provide patient centered care and we must put in the work to learn, acknowledge, and respect all parts of one’s identity. I challenge people to reflect, get uncomfortable, and challenge traditional ways of thinking about health and identity.

Confession #13

In one of my previous roles as a Registered Dietitian, I regularly taught cooking classes for adults on healthy eating on a budget. Since space was limited, I took many of the class registrations over the phone, which included asking registrants if they had any food allergies so that I could adapt recipes if necessary.

Once, one of the people registering over the phone joked to me that it was a good thing we weren’t eating Chinese food because she was allergic to dogs. I identify as mixed-race Chinese American and was too stunned by the casual racism to say anything. I’ve always wondered if the woman realized that she’d made that joke to the wrong person after she met me during the class.


MS, RD, Lecturer, Doctoral Candidate

Hi I’m Feraz, the host of @rdexampodcast and I am also a university professor. I am currently conducting my doctoral dissertation on diversity in dietetics, which I have been working on since 2018 while enrolled in a doctorate program concentrated in social justice, social change, and equity. Being in this program has elucidated many concepts that I feel are relevant to diversity in dietetics such as the concepts of micro-aggressions, Critical Race Theory, and Sense of Belonging. After studying and absorbing these concepts, among others, I am now exploring the stories of BIPOC dietetic program graduates in their pursuit of becoming dietitians because I feel stories from BIPOC individuals could serve as sources of empowerment, inform future diversity initiatives, and amplify BIPOC voices. I’m really passionate about diversifying the field as doing so may better reflect the patient population, ensure equity, cultural competence, and reduce disparities in the delivery of care.

I identify as a first-generation South Asian American male with ancestors from both India and Pakistan. I’m thankful that I have a strong cultural foundation instilled in me by my family, even though I barely saw any other South Asians in the small central California town that I lived. While going through my dietetics journey, I rarely saw any other BIPOC dietetic students/professionals. I feel platforms such as @nutritiondiversified are so integral in highlighting the voices of the BIPOC community and I sincerely thank this account for its amazing work. I am ecstatic that more discussions are being had regarding how to improve diversity in dietetics and look forward to seeing a more diverse field.

Confession #12

I was chatting with a coworker about our favorite cultural foods (coworker is Colombian, I am Puerto Rican) and my white manager butts in and says “Wow, don’t you guys have any healthy food, do you?” I immediately felt defensive and tried to spout off some healthy cultural foods of ours, to be met with a dismissive, “Sounds like a lot of carbs.” It made me sad to think that she has been a nutrition professional for 20 something years and has been similarly dismissing her clients for that long.

Elizabeth Gutiérrez

University of Illinois; BSc, ’20

My name is Elizabeth Gutiérrez, and I go by she/her pronouns. In May of 2020, I received my bachelors degree in food science and human nutrition with a concentration in dietetics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). I am now pursuing my Master’s Degree at UIUC in nutritional sciences where I will also complete my dietetic internship in the Fall.

My current interests in dietetics are community nutrition with a focus on health behaviors that acknowledges the barriers due to racism, weight stigma, etc. As I have learned more about the intersectionality of these issues, it’s hard to ignore.

Before entering the dietetic program as a transfer student, I was not aware of the lack of diversity. I never thought much of it until I heard the statistics regarding minorities/males in the profession.

When it comes to cultural competence education in accredited schools, I believe that it isn’t a one lecture or a highlighted feature section of a certain class. I think that as a future healthcare professional, learning needs to be happening throughout the entire process of the program. You don’t learn about the how, why, what all in one class when trying to address someone’s reasoning for adhering to your recommendations or not. More work needs to be done, and work can be done at every level- individual and organizational.

I think that we can create a more inclusive space by always listening first. Someone’s lived experience is always valid.

Follow me at @nutrition4theaveragejoe to watch me go through the the rest of my dietetic journey with some yummy food along the way!

Sherene Chou


I am a Chinese American dietitian focused on plant-based nutrition and building a more sustainable food system. 

Growing up in East Los Angeles, I was surrounded by mostly Chinese and Mexican culture. My parents immigrated from Taiwan and as a first gen kid, I didn’t know dietetics was a profession till I decided to change my career in 2010. Food policy ignited my passion for dietetics and I’ve never looked back.  

As a culinary trained dietitian, I’ve been able to build a fulfilling career as a brand consultant and educator. I’ve worked in and built programs for food insecure communities and continue to advocate for food equity. I am actively involved in our professional association at the local and national level as one of the few leaders of color. I encourage everyone to speak up for things they’d like to see changed in our profession. We need more diverse voices and more people engaged to change the system. The future of our profession needs you. 

Confession #10

When I joined my dietetics course BSc Hons Dietetics in the UK I was stunned to be 1 of 3 females from a south Asian background. The rest of the induction class consisted of white middle class girls who had their preppy water bottles and overpriced notepads and pens. Automatically felt like I didn’t belong there. And when I became friends with other BAME dietetic students, it was so nice to share to load and pressure of standing as a woman of colour in a white room.

Although our friendship group became almost unapproachable from the class dynamic. When I went on placement in a nursing home, the dementia patients (mostly white again) were fixated on talking about my roots and background instead of discussing nutrition. It was always “my father fought as part of the British army in India” “you must be a curry muncher” or some other insensitive colonised comment. I’ve had racists remarks on placement too being shouted racial slurs to and from work. I love what I do, but having to constantly fight for diversity is exhausting. Why do we always have to push for our voices to be heard. Why can’t we be seen equal to our white counterparts? I’m so happy to be able to have this opportunity and platform to speak anonymously about how I feel.